Erskine didn't get the epithet 'Bobbing John' for nothing and in 1715 decided to rescind his support for the government and take up the Jacobite cause. Towards the end of August of that year he marched from his ancestral castle of Kildrummy and using Corgarff Castle as rendezvous with further troops, continued on to Braemar. On 6th September, possibly at the ruinous castle, possibly somewhere else, he rose the standard of King James VIII and III. The rising would not be a long one and after an indecisive battle at Sheriffmuir and defeat at Preston enthusiasm among the Jacobites was on the wane. When James landed at Stonehaven in December the rising was effectively over. In February 1716 James, Erskine and the rising’s other leaders fled to France and shortly after Corgarff would be the scene of the Jacobite army’s dissolution. The castle was brunt once again, this time by government forces.
By the “Forty-five” Corgaff Castle had been repaired and would again play its part, for a short period acting as strategic munitions dump for Jacobite forces and the intended rendezvous of Jacobite forces. However, the rendezvous never happened as the castle was promptly raided by a party of the Government troops. The Jacobites were forced to quickly flee, leaving the greater part of their stores behind. We are fortunate to have a vivid account of the raid, written in a letter from Aberdeen on 6th March 1746, by Alexander Stuart of Dunearn, Captain in Lord Mark Kerr's regiment of Dragoons, to his brother, James Stuart of Drumsheuch:
"I returned on Wednesday from an expedition into the Highlands of Aberdeenshire, fifty miles from hence, to destroy a Magazine of the Rebels at Corgarff, which lies near the head of the Don. Three hundred foot commanded by Major Morris, and one hundred Dragoons commanded by me—the whole under the command of Lord Ancrum, were ordered for that duty. We marched from this on Friday, 28th February, in a snowy day to Monimuss, Sir Archibald Grant's house. Next day over mountains and Moors almost impassable at any time of the year, but much more so when covered with snow, to a place called Tarland. As soon as they saw us directing our March thither, they suspected our design on the Magazine there, and some rebels who lived there sent away an Express immediately to acquaint the Garrison, and to Glenbucket, who was with some men at Glenlivet above Strathdon, about Ten miles above the Castle.
On Saturday morning we marched from Tarland, a most terrible march, to the Castle, which stands on the side of the Don, where I daresay never Dragoons were before, nor ever will be again, nor foot neither, unless Highlanders! Though we marched early in the morning it was past four before we arrived there. We found it abandoned by the Garrison, but so lately, that the fire was burning, and no living creature in the house but a poor cat sitting by the fire. They had thrown the barrels of powder down the bank into the river in order I suppose to destroy it, but had not time—and had conveyed the arms up and down the hills near it in different directions, and hid the bayonets under a dung-hill. However, we found all out, and brought away 367 firelocks, 370 bayonets. There were some more arms destroyed, which we could not carry. Ten thousand musket balls we threw into the river and amongst the heather, etc., etc., and it being impossible to convey away the powder for want of country horses, all gone to the hills with the country folks who had run away, being told by the rebels that we were to burn and destroy the whole country. We staved 32 double barrels of exceeding fine Spanish powder equal to 69 of our barrels, and threw it all into the river—and afterwards, for want of horses, were obliged to burn and destroy so many of the firelocks, that we brought but 131 to Aberdeen. We returned on Wednesday from such a country that a hundred men might beat a thousand from the hills above them—and had it snowed another night when we went there, it had been impossible to have returned. We were obliged to be two nights in the open fields—and sit on horseback all night. However, we happily executed what we were sent upon— and, thank God, returned safe, with only the loss of one horse. I do assure you the Clergy, who have everywhere in Scotland much distinguished themselves for our religion and happy constitution, behaved very kindly to us, were our guides and intelligencers everywhere—and three of them went quite up to the Castle of Corgarff with us, from whence, I forgot to tell you, we were obliged to return eight miles for quarters—and 'twas two o'clock in the morning before we arrived. Guess what a journey in such a country, in a dark night, snowing the whole time! . . . I hear now the Rebels are in great want of provisions. This Magazine is a great loss to the Rebels—it supplying them with ammunition in their marches thro' the Highlands, where carriages cannot go."
In Dougal Graham's history of the rising, published in September 1746, the only account to ever be written in rhyming couplets, a short description is given of the capture of Corgarff Castle. Graham however chose to apply a little artistic license claiming Lord Ancrum blew up the castle with the captured gunpowder barrels rather than simply staving them:
We look forward to unveiling LEGO Corgaff as part of The Jacobite Risings: The Fight for Britain’s Throne – why not be the first to see it at Manchester’s Bricktastic this July?
BLOG TO THE PAST
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past